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"Like Mad Magazine, but, you know, real."

I've learned more in my life so far from Alfred E. Neuman than I have from Albert Einstein, and Neuman is a fictional character. I sometimes fancy myself a smart person. Just how dumb is that? I might conclude my summertime inquiry into cluelessness right here. Einstein, as insightful as he doubtless was, couldn't hold a half-melted birthday candle to Neuman, entertainment-wise. Can you imagine Spy vs. Spy in the hands of the celebrated physicist? People seem to require some absolute stupidity to attract their attention. A graphic novel about the history of 20th century physics was stickier than everything else I'd ever read on the subject. Eggheads love to read comix. What do stupid people read? Oh, the really stupid ones don't read, or … can't … read, which renders them social pariahs to all those to can and do read.

Some of the stupidest people I've met in this life held advanced degrees from prominent universities. Some of the smartest, failed to graduate high school.
By what metric should I measure smartness or dumbness? Those who agree with me seem absolutely brilliant until I consider the basis upon which I measure their brilliance. I consider myself to be bright enough to accept how stupid I seem sometimes, but not always. I hold no universally superior intelligence, and I suspect that when I get my back up over some painful swipe, I demonstrate just how utterly clueless I am to many of those around me. I'm not wearing a tinfoil hat yet, but I might just as well be.

My old friend Mark Gray, whom I met on the same day I met The Muse, when I was facilitating one of my recently departed mentor Jerry Weinberg's PSLs, recounted to me today his last conversation with Jerry. He reported that Jerry insisted that the primary question facing mankind involves how smart people deal with stupid people. He might just as well have posed the question backwards. How do stupid people cope with smart people? Poorly probably works as the answer in both cases. My premise when starting my summertime inquiry into cluelessness was that how we cope with inevitable cluelessness might hold the key. I know the old dichotomy, SmartVSDumb, proposes some sort of either/or context. I think that perhaps, we're actually dealing with a both/and, which could explain the ever widening gap between the combatants. It seems that we're manning barricades, each defending theirs as exemplars of smart, when constructing barricades might have exhibited one of the dumber strategies for resolving nothing, as if mere dominion or numbers or repellent-force could somehow decide the question.

Einstein was so smart that he sometimes got lost trying to find his way home in his own neighborhood. At least Neuman held a comforting self-deprecating attitude, one each of us loyal Mad Magazine readers could readily both relate to and deprecate. How magical was that? I believe that nobody gets to qualify as smartest, like nobody could ever qualify as dumbest, though many seem to be competing for the title. We are instead Janus beings, each favoring some aspect that qualifies as no more than part of each whole. We cope poorly with our cluelessness, but no more poorly than we cope with our smartnesses. Of course, someone convinced that their concealed carry makes them safer might hold the more temporally convincing argument, especially if they consider you to be the threat they've prayed to encounter. The whole dance seems absurdly serious. Like Mad Magazine, but, you know, real.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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